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Humanitarian Intervention: The American Experience from William McKinley to Barack Obama

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In the late 19th century, humanitarian intervention was a popular idea among U.S. citizens. In this detail from a political cartoon, a caring woman whose garment reads "liberty" symbolizes this impulse.

Many of us think of humanitarian intervention as a recent phenomenon of United States foreign policy. Certainly, critics of Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya saw America’s humanitarian involvement there as some new-fangled excuse to go mucking around in other countries. This month historian Jeff Bloodworth traces a much longer history of humanitarian intervention that goes back to the administration of William McKinley and is connected with the Protestant ideals of some of the nation's founders. Far from being new, Bloodworth demonstrates that humanitarianism has been a central concern of American foreign policy for a very long time.

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